I’ve been following the events surrounding Rosaria Butterfield’s recent visit to Wheaton College, where over 100 students held a demonstration prior to chapel demanding more than a single story be shared.* The students seem concerned that others might use her story prescriptively to say all gay or same sex attracted people should experience a similar transformation that leads to heterosexual marriage. A number of the students also seem concerned that Wheaton is not open to acknowledging the larger conversation regarding the morality of gay relationships, and they want to see Wheaton interacting with more progressive interpretations of Scripture on this point (which I won’t get into here).
I’ve been fascinated by Rosaria’s story since I read it last year. The first few chapters of her book gripped me with sentences like: “This word—conversion—is simply too tame and too refined to capture the train wreck that I experienced in coming face-to-face with the Living God.” That resonates with me—her entire story of coming face to face with the Living God (and being transformed from the inside out) resonates with me. Then she marries a man. She marries a man, has children, home schools her children, and now leads a radically different life than the one she led as a “queer activist” and professor at Syracuse. That doesn’t resonate with me.
So I’ve watched the conversation unfolding, sharing others concerns that conservative Christians might run with a story like Rosaria’s and use it as a model to say all of us who have same sex attractions will live into a heterosexual reality if we have enough faith. I fear they’ll say: “See! Rosaria is married with children. You, too, can experience the power of the Gospel to make you straight!” That happens, and it’s what I pushed back against when I was involved with Exodus because I wanted the ex-gays to make room for the celibate gays who were trying to follow Jesus with all our hearts.
I now find myself wanting to tell other gay Christians like myself to make room for stories like Rosaria’s. I watched the video of her address to students at Wheaton and saw a woman with a message about a glorious Savior. I was surprised that she didn’t even mention her marriage and family until the final two minutes of her talk. She shared about a radical encounter with Jesus Christ—through His people—that turned her life upside down. She talked about Jesus becoming more beautiful to her than everything else in the world, about her slow process of stepping out in trust to follow Him. It was a clear presentation of the Gospel that wrecks us, rescues us, and sets us apart from the lives of sin we used to lead.
We can stack hands on that. While her story might look different than mine or other celibate gay Christians, we can stack hands on the power of the Gospel to transform us from the inside out. I would still push for folks in my shoes to support her even if she did make her marriage a central part of her story because this is how God has worked in her life. I celebrate that in the same way I hope others will celebrate the power of Christ to sustain me in celibacy. We don’t need to feel threatened by stories that look different than ours (or by those who disagree on matters of language), and we definitely don’t want to silence them. If we silence stories just because we fear folks will run with the hetero part and make it a model, then we also end up silencing stories about the power of Christ to transform hearts. If other Christians make the hetero part a measuring stick for the rest of us, then we can have a conversation with them and remind them sanctification is a process that doesn’t typically entail orientation change here on earth. But that conversation is most fruitful when we celebrate a variety of stories, engage with grace, and acknowledge the Lord uses each of us in different ways to display His beauty through our unique vocations.
I have to say: I felt humbled and challenged by Rosaria’s presentation, and I think I have a lot to learn from her. I feel like I was fighting for room at the table for so long, trying to convince Christians that I loved Jesus too and I couldn’t change my orientation no matter how hard I tried, that I sort of dug my heels in. I got to a point over the past few years where I almost insisted people stop talking to me about change, that they stop with the extreme language about transformation, that they stop telling me stories like Rosaria’s. But it seems the pendulum might have swung to another extreme now, and in our attempts to be heard we might ignore valuable voices. There was a time when stories like Rosaria’s were the only stories shared. That time has passed. I’m now concerned stories like hers are often silenced, and that’s a grave mistake.
When God shows up in someone’s life He brings a sweeping overhaul to the entire person, whether that ends in a heterosexual marriage or the grace to be chaste. In resisting talk about some of these aspects of change, I’ve also resisted talk about other kinds of change that might be beneficial, which can lead to blurring lines and compromising on points that perhaps shouldn’t be compromised. I admire the gracious manner in which Rosaria boldly proclaims the radical transformation she experienced when she met Jesus, and I see in her someone who is clearly set apart. Perhaps we would all do well to celebrate stories of transformation, regardless of how they play out practically, and to stack hands on the power of the Gospel to bring restoration.